Remember the Microsoft Courier? It was a tablet concept that Microsoft was looking at before the iPad even came out, and it got a lot of attention back then. The idea was to have a book-style tablet consisting of two screens connected by a hinge, and software that would use both screens together in new ways. Even though it never made it to market, the idea hasn’t quite died out, and there’s even an iOS app that brings some of the features to the iPad: Taposé.
Looking at the Courier now, it strikes me that it looks like two iPad minis connected together. That made me realize that there would actually be a lot of sense to being able to connect together two iPad minis. The connection could be wireless, leaving the physical connection to be handled by a case. That would mean that you wouldn’t need any hardware changes for the current mini to make it happen, and dual screen mode could be something that could be enabled in software.
It would give people a reason to buy a second iPad, without changing the experience whatsoever by those using only a single iPad. Furthermore, you could have one iPad with a lot of storage capacity and a cellular radio to act as the master device, and only need to buy a (relatively speaking) cheap 16GB WiFi model to act as a second iPad in the setup.
So, why would you even want to chain two iPads together? Replicating the Courier is an obvious answer, but it’s far from the only thing you could do with such a setup. You could have ebook readers work over two pages, have side-by-side document editing, put the keyboard on one screen and whatever you’re typing into on the other (in landscape mode), browse the web over two pages, run two apps side-by-side, open up for completely new game experiences, and about a billion other things. After all, dual screen devices exist, but haven’t been overly successful because of limited software support- something that an official backing by Apple would fix.
Just having two iPad minis in itself is something I often wish I had. Today I was showing a video to a class, and found myself unable to do much which that was happening, as my iPad was serving as the video player. I wished then that I had second mini, both to act as a remote, and to do work on while the first one was busy. In fact, there has been a ton of situations, both as a student and a teacher, where I wish I had a second screen that interacted properly with my iPad mini. I’ve even considered buying a second mini even without having the two work together, so if Apple were to give me another reason to keep two minis around, I’d buy one in an instant.
I think the viability of something like this is a lot higher now than before the release of the iPad mini. Two iPad minis still weigh less combined than a full size iPad, and you wouldn’t need to use them together all the time, meaning that I think two minis would be more useful than a single large iPad where the screen was split in two. Bottom line though, this is something that can be done entirely in software, and I dare say that giving people a reason to get a second iPad mini would far repay the cost of developing the software. What’s more, there is already a working system in place for apps to seamlessly switch between single display mode and dual display mode, and it’s currently being used to allow apps to take advantage of external displays. The same system could be adapted to allow a single app to seamlessly switch between single device and dual device mode, meaning that apps wouldn’t change for users of only one device.
This might sound like this would be a very niche solution, but I don’t think so. There are lots of people out there using their iPads in situations where a second screen would come in handy, and I doubt I’m the only one who would shell out an additional $329 for a dual screen solution that worked well. The fact that this could be done without ever affecting how a single iPad looks or works means that it’s something that wouldn’t change the fundamental nature of the iPad, but just give it something extra.